Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 30, 2006)
Prison Break comes with a premise that one can view as brilliant, idiotic, or both. A man gets incarcerated with the sole purpose of busting out his brother? I can’t quite decide if that’s really cool or totally moronic.
To help me decide, I gave the series’ first season a look. I’ll check out the shows in the order broadcast. The plot synopses come straight from the set’s packaging.
Pilot: “Structural engineer Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) purposefully has himself incarcerated in order to orchestrate the escape of his brother Lincoln (Dominic Purcell), whom he believes has been wrongly sentenced to death.”
The series opens with a reasonably interesting episode, though it may be overly ambitious. The “Pilot” tries to cram in so many characters and bits that it offers potential confusion. I realize that these elements will straighten out as the series progresses, but the show becomes a bit disjointed. At least it moves well and keeps us interested.
Allen: “Setting his plan in motion, Michael seeks the aid of his fellow inmates, but he makes some deadly enemies along the way.”
We still have a lot of shows to go, but I doubt we’ll find any characters as gross as T-Bag. That’s a perverse name and a nasty dude – in an entertaining way, that is. T-Bag seems likely to add pizzazz to many future programs. As for the specifics of this episode, I like the way we see Michael play both sides in the racial conflict. That adds complexity to the show and makes it more compelling.
Cell Test: “Michael’s plan to test Sucre’s (Amaury Nolasco) loyalty backfires when Sucre requests a cell transfer, and Abruzzi (Peter Stormare) joins in Michael’s plan to escape.”
Characters dominate "Test", as it does more to set up personalities than it does to move along the story. I like seeing more of Sucre, as he’s one of the series’ more intriguing characters so far. He’s more three-dimensional than most – unlike Abruzzi and many of the others, he creates sympathy in the viewers. On the other hand, I can’t stand LJ. Maybe he’ll develop as things progress, but now he’s just whiny and annoying.
Cute Poison: “Michael fears that his psychotic new cellmate will expose his plan, while Veronica (Robin Tunney) enlists the aid of another attorney as she uncovers new evidence in Lincoln’s case.”
Another interesting personality emerges via the nutso Haywire (Silas Weir Mitchell). Yeah, he feels like a plot device more than anything, but he’s a fun plot device. This episode reminds me how dull I think the Veronica side of things is, though. I like the parts in prison much more than those bits outside of jail; the whole legal process just doesn’t interest me so far. The lame “coincidence” that a) Veronica splits with her fiancé and b) the new lawyer is a hunk is also cheesy. Despite the freaky charm of Haywire, this is too inconsistent a program to really work.
English, Fitz or Percy: “Kellerman (Paul Adelstein) and Hale (Danny McCarthy) blackmail Warden Pope (Stacy Keach) into moving Michael to another prison, and Michael must think quickly to avoid the transfer.”
After the lackluster “Poison”, the series rebounds with the solid “Percy”. It moves the breakout plot along well and creates a good sense of tension. Heck, even the Veronica parts succeed in this enjoyable show.
Riots, Drills and the Devil (Part 1): “With the escape plan falling dangerously far behind, Michael sparks a full-scale riot by sabotaging the prison’s air conditioner system, and Veronica, growing suspicious of Nick (Frank Grillo), rejects his help with Lincoln’s case.”
I’ll discuss my thoughts about this episode when I go over its conclusion.
Riots, Drills and the Devil (Part 2): “As the rioting rages on, Michael must rescue Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies) from the other inmates, while Abruzzi and Sucre team up to help expedite the breakout.”
Some parts of “Drills” feel awfully contrived, mainly as it puts Sara in danger. Nonetheless, it does seem interesting to watch how the riot complicates the breakout plot, and it includes more action than usual. We get stuck with too much of the annoying LJ, unfortunately, a character with little definition; he goes from hating Lincoln to loving him awfully quickly.
The Old Head: “To his great dismay, Michael discovers that an old storage shed, crucial to his plan, has been converted into a break room for the guards, while outside the prison, Veronica, Nick and LJ (Marshall Allman) find their lives in danger.”
For once, the stories outside the prison actually become more interesting than the internal affairs. Matters turn quite dark as the agents put the pressure on those connected to Lincoln, and these elements help add danger to the proceedings. Sure, I still don’t like LJ, but at least the non-prison bits are exciting. As for the shots inside the jail, they help move along the plot well, though they don’t come across as particularly memorable. I do like the expansion of the Westmoreland character, however.
Tweener: “Fearing for the life of his son, Lincoln’s desire to escape becomes more desperate than ever, and Michael faces a tough decision as the vile T-Bag (Robert Knepper) continues to sexually prey on young inmates.”
If nothing else, “Tweener” stands out as arguably the first time we’ve seen genuine emotion from Michael; when T-Bag’s bitch kills himself, he actually displays something other than steely determination. Unfortunately, those feelings come out in this episode’s Afterschool Special theme when Michael tries to rescue the kids T-Bag rapes. I don’t much care for the tone of those scenes; it’d be better to see T-Bag dealt with in a less “TV movie” manner. The infusion of some convenient information about Michael’s psychology doesn’t help.
Other parts of this episode falter. The non-prison elements stall a bit and Lincoln’s attempts to help LJ seem pretty absurd given the circumstances. Only the expansion of Abruzzi’s situation brings a lot to this lackluster program, though it ends with one of the more tantalizing cliffhangers yet seen.
Sleight of Hand: “Michael is forced to reveal the location of Fibonacci (Roderick Peeples), an innocent man whom the mob wants dead, in order to keep the breakout plan on track, and Kellerman and Hale receive some unwanted help in their pursuit of LJ.”
After percolating in the background for so long, it’s good to finally see the Fibonacci storyline take flight. The program doesn’t end the issue, but it develops it well. Add to that a new threat from parties even nastier than Agents Kellerman and Hale along with a new member of the plot and this turns into a solid episode.
And Then There Were 7: “Everyone, especially Sara, is shocked when Michael’s wife (Holly Valance) arrives for a conjugal visit, bringing with her an important key to the escape plan.”
Along with the formal addition of that added member of the plot, this show offers a good expansion of the non-prison tension. I know that earlier in the year I didn’t care for those elements, but as the season progresses, they become more and more interesting and dramatic. I like the way the series slowly expands those moments, and it continues to pursue the prison break well.
Odd Man Out: “As the time of the escape draws near, the group, needing to reduce its number by one, targets T-Bag, but he’s got other ideas. Meanwhile, Veronica, Nick and LJ continue running for their lives.”
I’m starting to think they should have named Maricruz “Plot Device” since she exists solely to prod Sucre into action. “Out” acts as something of a placeholder episode. With Sucre/Maricruz and other interpersonal elements, it has more of a soap opera feel than usual. Abruzzi’s excessive guilt over the accidental death of a kid also seems tough to swallow given his criminal history; I find it hard to believe that he’d feel so terrible about events. This show’s a little too weepy for my liking.
End of the Tunnel: “Just hours before Lincoln’s execution, the team makes its desperate and daring break for it, while outside a guilt-ridden conspirator betrays the others.”
“Tunnel” serves to deepen the tension as we wait to see if Linc gets fried or not, but since anyone with half a brain already knows the answer to that question, the show feels like little more than an unnecessary delay in the action. It moves along the escape but shows us a stall, another predictable element since it’s too early in the season for such a climactic event. At least the actions on the outside provide some good twists.
The Rat: “After the failed escape attempt, Michael tries desperately to have Lincoln’s execution postponed. Meanwhile, Sara pleads Lincoln’s case to her father, the governor (John Heard).”
We know that Lincoln won’t be friend, and this episode’s cliffhanger doesn’t alter that fact. Still, I suppose I can at least give credit to the way the show depicts the lead-up tension. The program makes the events fairly interesting, though it’s not one of the best episodes.
By the Skin & the Teeth: “Lincoln’s execution is stayed by a last-minute phone call, but not before he glimpses a man he believes to be his father. And, as Michael works on a new escape plan, Veronica has a corpse exhumed in her attempt to prove Lincoln’s innocence.”
I’ll give the show this: the twist that leads to the stay of execution comes as a surprise. Actually, “Skin” acts as something of a new lease on life for the series as well. The situations change and open up in fresh ways that add a strong kick. Things hadn’t really gotten stale, but the alterations rejuvenate matters anyway.
Brother’s Keeper: “A series of flashbacks reveals the origins of Michael’s plans and how each of the escapees landed in Fox River Penitentiary.”
Based on that synopsis, I worried that “Keeper” might turn out to offer nothing more than clips from previously aired programs. It proves more creative than that, though it can be a little cutesy at times – I think it’s silly that Lincoln bumps into Sucre as he flees Steadman’s murder site. Nonetheless, it’s cool to see how the various folks wound up at Fox River. It’s an entertaining and interesting episode.
J-Cat: “With Michael out of commission in solitary confinement, it’s up to Sucre to conceal the tunnel beneath the guards’ break room before it’s too late.”
Back in present day, Sucre actually gets to do something for once. Since he’s one of the more interesting characters, that’s a positive. On the negative side, LJ turns whiny, stupid and unlikable again. Despite that, a mix of fun twists occur here – heck, we even get to see usually stoic Michael flip out a bit!
Bluff: “Michael seeks Haywire’s help in remembering the missing piece of his blueprint tattoo, while T-Bag and C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar) must join forces to win a high-stakes poker game.”
Any episode that links opposites like T-Bag and C-Note has to be a good one, right? Yup, though that uneasy alliance doesn’t lead to the sparks I hoped. Still, “Bluff” advances the various stories well. All the complications move things along nicely to create a lively program.
The Key: “A face from Lincoln’s past re-emerges to reveal the motives behind his set-up, and Abruzzi’s return to Fox River sets T-Bag on edge.”
Pretty much every episode develops the series’ story, but “Key” is one of the biggest plot-thickeners to date. We get a lot about what happened to Michael and Lincoln’s dad, and we also see the development of Michael’s relationship with Sara. We find the return of Abruzzi as well, in an apparently complex new Born Again form. These issues meld together for a nice show.
Tonight: “With Bellick (Wade Williams) bound and gagged, the inmates’ escape plans are rapidly accelerated, and Sara is left reeling when Michael reveals his secret to her.”
With very little time left in the season, matters start to really accelerate here. I suppose the urgency allows for some uncharacteristic sloppiness from Michael, though I find it a little hard to believe that Mr. Thorough would suddenly start to slip. The show acts more as a precursor to action than anything particularly compelling on its own.
Go: “The cons make their desperate break for freedom via the Psych Ward, and Nick double-crosses Veronica, hoping to save his dad.”
With Season One’s penultimate episode, the sparks really start to fly. Of course, we expect the big payoff to occur in the year’s final show, but this one launches the proceedings with gusto. It throws in some surprises and emotional intrigue to make us dying to see the year’s conclusion.
Flight: “The inmates are safely over the wall, but they’re still a long way from freedom as the deadly manhunt begins.”
We finish off the series’ first season with maybe its most exciting episode yet. That’s to be expected, and “Flight” delivers the goods. However, anyone who hopes for some form of resolution will be disappointed, as the program doesn’t solve anything. Indeed, it leaves us with more questions and intrigue than ever. Hey – nothing like a good cliffhanger to make sure we return for Season 2, right?